Living by the Yamas and Niyamas

Living by the Yamas and Niyamas

Welcome to Week 1 of National Yoga Month, a month to share about all things Yoga. The Vegan Asana, and the members of YIOM are participating by writing on the 8-limbs of Yoga as laid out in Patajanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

The weekly themes are:

  • Week 1 – Yama (ethical restraints) and Niyama (personal observances)
  • Week 2 – Asana (body postures) and Pranayama (breath control)
  • Week 3 – Pratyahara (sense withdrawal/control) and Dhyana (concentration)
  • Week 4 – Dhyana (devotion, meditation) and Samadhi (union with the divine)

May we live like the lotus-at home in the muddy water

~Judith Hanson Lasater

Lotus by Lotus Lover on Flickr

Lotus by Lotus Lover on Flickr

As I have written about here and here, the Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of Yoga practice. Each of the 8-limbs build upon and intertwine with one another. So there is a natural fluctuation between small steps of mastery and giant steps with the beginners mind. The Yamas and Niyamas are the alive, breathing techniques to take out of practice and into life. Holding them in mind helps to stay present, non-reactive and more compassionate with self and others.

They’re like a To Do list for being the person I want to be. They fit into any spiritual, religious, or ethical viewpoint that gives access to these concepts.

The Yamas (restraints or limits):

  • Ahimsa: non-harming
  • Satya: truthfulness
  • Asteya: non-stealing
  • Bramacharya: non-coveting
  • Aparygraha: non-hoarding

The Niyamas (personal observances or meditations):

  • Saucha: purity
  • Santosha: contentment
  • Tapas: discipline
  • Svadhyaya: self-examination
  • Ishvarapranidhana: concentrating on spiritual, religious or personal beliefs or aspirations

So, how do we embody these ideals? Personally, I feel it is by holding a concept in my head and living life. I try to check in with myself in the morning by sitting quietly (and honestly, as a mom, that means it’s probably a few stolen moments in the bathroom), taking 20 deep breaths [1] and listening to what arises in me. Usually, it is one of the Yamas or Niyamas. I don’t always have an idea at the time why a particular yama or niyama might arise, but I hold it in the front of my mind that day. I use it as a locus of focus to live and interact consciously.

Even the Lotus can get knotted up before blooming

Even the Lotus can get knotted up before blooming

For example, I breathe and listen (in the bathroom, with my kids about to knock on the door) to the word Ahimsa as it arises. I think, “Ahimsa? I need to declutter the garage today. I need to hold Aparygraha today.” But, I hold Ahimsa anyway. And it is a tough day. My partner and I don’t see eye to eye on how best to organize the garage. The kids are running around being loud and getting into everything dangerous the second I’m not watching. They feel the tension between the adults and don’t treat one another kindly. I lose my patience and yell. Then, I get angry at myself for not being more understanding. All of these were opportunities to use Ahimsa. I finally notice this.

After the fact.

Whoops. I take a deep breath and just allow the idea of non-harming-even taking it to a larger ideal and feelings empathy for everyone. I apologize to myself, my partner, my children, and even the dog without recrimination. I change my point of view to look for the acts of love that each one of them is trying to communicate by either requesting or giving connection. They are everywhere and I feel full. This feels right. All of the Yamas and Niyamas slip into place and there is union.

I am living my Yoga-at least for this moment.

The one moment where I can be fully present because that’s really all there is.

Coming Soon: I take the Yamas and Niyamas into two places: 1. A Yoga class that works my edge and 2. A day with my kids-after I clue them in to what I’m doing (and they can check up on me)

[1] The 20 deep breaths clarity of mind technique will be in an upcoming post


I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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